When phosphate is applied to the fields, it is immediately available to plants but it’s also highly reactive and will quickly bond with other elements in the soil. As a result, farmers have historically had to apply far more phosphate than needed. In fact, a conservative estimate of how much phosphate actually is taken up by plants is 20 per cent. The other 80 per cent remains tied up in the soil, binding with calcium, iron or other elements. Penicillium bilaii, the active ingredient in JumpStart, secretes an acid that breaks the bond between the phosphate and calcium (or iron or any other element in fact), and makes the fertilizer available to the plant.
According to Novozymes’ marketing literature, using JumpStart results in an increased and immediate uptake of phosphate. The crop emerges quickly; develops a healthier root system; has better stand establishment; and has more uniform maturity, the company says. Scientists agree that plants with a healthy root system are better able to withstand stresses such as disease, drought, weeds, or other pests, and because of this, they have a greater yield potential. In Canada, JumpStart is approved for use on alfalfa, sweet clover, canola, mustard, chickpea, dry bean, lentil, pea, and wheat. Approval on soybean is pending.
After 18 years and more than 300 farmer-scale trials on a number of different crops all across the Prairies, as well as hundreds of additional small-plot tests, Novozymes has tracked a seven per cent higher yield with the use of JumpStart. The company says this works out to a 3:1 return on investment for farmers. Of course, bumping up phosphate efficiency not only improves the bottom line by increasing crop yield, it improves cost-efficiency by enabling farmers to use less phosphate with greater results. Novozymes’ research shows that applying JumpStart produces a six per cent higher yield than adding an extra 15 pounds of P2O5 fertilizer per acre.
Novozymes says the acreage of canola seeded with JumpStart in Western Canada doubled from 2007 to 2008. The company has also seen large-scale increases in JumpStart use on wheat.
From where he’s located, Daylen Bergquist, unit manager at Lakeside Fertilizer in Brooks, doesn’t see a huge demand for JumpStart, though he does say there was increased interest this past fall when fertilizer prices were higher. With low commodity prices, however, he says that inoculants are one of the first things growers cut. He also says farmers on land with high fertility don’t usually use JumpStart.
In the past, a few of Lakeside’s clients have tried JumpStart on flax and wheat — but though the crops looked good, especially in the first four weeks, they didn’t do enough testing to determine how much of a difference it made. Bergquist says the biggest demand for JumpStart is from canola growers. In the Brooks area, most growers plant open-pollinated canola, which is slow out of the ground. Farmers inoculate with JumpStart to give it an extra push.
Lakeside Fertilizer is a certified custom canola treater so they purchase JumpStart from Novozymes who provide them with a custom treater. They line their growers up and batch through everyone’s canola, which they already have in stock from the seed suppliers. Historically, inoculants have been applied on-farm but Garry Hnatowich, senior research agronomist with Novozymes, says that it is more and more common to see retailers applying inoculants. Some seed companies also offer farmers the option of having the inoculant applied to the seed before it even gets to the retailer.
Adam LaLiberté, owner and manager of Eco Seeds, an independent dealer in Fairview, Alta., has been selling JumpStart since 1996. While sales have been steady, he finds it’s more popular when the spring is unusually wet and growers are forced to broadcast canola. His clients use JumpStart more consistently with peas, partly he thinks, because farmers are inoculating the peas with mycorrhizobial bacteria anyway.
Just a few of LaLiberté’s clients currently use JumpStart for wheat. LaLiberté feels the return, especially on peas, has been significant. For other crops it can be hard to tell — as he says, the impact isn’t immediately visual, the way it is with something like spraying wild oats. As LaLiberté says, “How do you know, when you’re talking about a couple of bushels more canola?” He believes farmers have to be diligent about testing and comparing. For him, the decision to use JumpStart also requires farmers to be diligent about tracking their input costs. The only downside LaLiberté sees is that farmers who don’t have a good handle on the nutrients in their soil could apply it to soil that has no phosphate and so they won’t see a response. Overall, he says, some of his clients have been using it for years so obviously they see a benefit to it.
Nothing similar on the market, yet
Private and public sector researchers are scrambling to figure out more and better ways of commercially harnessing beneficial microorganisms. Three major North American players have emerged: EMD Biosciences, Becker Underwood and Novozymes.
Companies are looking at how microfungal inoculants can be used to enhance growth and yields, and also aid in nutrient acquisition, moisture acquisition, disease and pest control, and nitrogen fixation in non-legumes.
A fairly extensive search of the web on this writer’s part turned up just one other product, called QuickRoots, marketed by a company in South Dakota. QuickRoots has microfungi and a rhizobial bacteria that supposedly “can release plant available phosphorus from sources in the soil.” QuickRoots is not available in Canada.
Patty Milligan lives on a farm near Bon Accord, Alta. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected]